Just Started – Chris Ashby: We Are Heroes

The world of design and creative agencies can be confusing for startups to negotiate. We Are Heroes is here to save the day, by prioritising client growth over aesthetic.

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Name of founder: Chris Ashby
Age of founder: 33
Location: London
Date launched: May 2021
Number of employees: 1

What does your business do?

We offer startup founders and small business owners an unlimited design and strategy subscription, focused on driving growth through design. My goal is to give startup founders and entrepreneurs creative confidence through what we do, to know that every investment they make in design will return value for their business.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The business idea really came from a lot of time working in companies as a design team lead, UX designer, or product designer. It became clear that a lot of creative agencies just don't provide startups or early-stage businesses with the value they need from design. They are too focused on aesthetic, or trying to make everything look perfect (often just for their portfolio). It was also apparent that freelancers didn't have the time to understand the product or business well enough, which in turn meant that what they designed didn't achieve the right objective. What's more, the startups I was working with routinely couldn't afford to invest in conversion rate optimisation agencies or tools, because those services are almost exclusively targeted at big-budget, enterprise clients. I decided that I wanted to change that, and create a different kind of design agency focused on driving growth through design, and where the client could cancel at any time. Every startup or early-stage business should have access to great design, that doesn't cost the earth, and actually impacts business growth.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I spent some time freelancing as a lead designer before founding We Are Heroes. I uncovered those founders weren't happy with their expensive rebrand, or didn't really know why they should make one design decision over the other, along with a myriad of other frustrations around designing for growth. Eventually, I was referred to a startup through my freelance work, and spent a couple of months working with them to refine the We Are Heroes offering to something that made sense for startup founders.

What were you doing before launching your business?

Before launching my business, I was working as UX/UI Lead for BrewDog in London. During this role I was looking after everything UX, UI, and product-design related, as well as managing their conversion rate optimisation efforts. Over the course of 2020 we managed to do some incredible things.

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

I think part of me probably always knew that I would eventually start my own business in some shape or form, but I never had the reason or the motivation to actually do it until Covid-19 hit, and we were plunged into lockdown! I read a lot of books during lockdown, and did a lot of self-reflection about what I wanted from my work life, which eventually led to me deciding to start We Are Heroes.

How did you finance your business?

We Are Heroes is fully bootstrapped. I was lucky to have enough in savings to get started, and my partner has been incredibly supportive through the initial stages of building up the business, I can't thank her enough.

Explain your business model and how you make money.

We operate on a subscription model, similar to DesignJoy or Design Pickle, which can be cancelled at any time, and is a fixed cost per month for unlimited design and strategy. We take a more hands-on approach during the first month in order to identify high-growth opportunities with every client, define their strategy, and prioritise their design ideas. We then provide an unlimited design service to deliver them, which includes user research and testing as well. We are also planning on offering online courses and learning programs, along with other products both physical and digital, all focused on helping startups grow through design.

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge we have faced so far is simply driving awareness of our service and product in a cost-effective manner. Creating and launching products on Product Hunt has helped massively, and forced me to think about the true value we are providing with our service, and the prospects we should be targeting. We've created a newsletter called ‘Designing Growth', and a design tool called ‘Blobs', which have both generated a decent amount of traffic and email signups. We also experimented a lot with different service offerings, landing pages, and different digital downloads, driving traffic through paid social in order to validate the business direction fairly early. Our website has changed a lot since we started!

What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?

The experience has been isolating at times, especially considering I'm starting on my own with a view to building the team over time, but it's incredibly rewarding. The amount I've learnt and grown from over the course of the last year is staggering. I think the most important thing for me though is understanding what I stand for. Going from just being an employee, to now having a vision and a clear goal, to give incredible startups and founders the creative confidence to grow through design, means more than anything. It gives me a reason to do what I do. It means I get to help other founders realise the vision for their business, and help the next generation of businesses grow.

Describe your first breakthrough.

It has to be the first time I had a sales call with a prospective client, explaining what we do and I could see their face light up. It proved to me that yes, people do understand what we're trying to do! And yes, it is valuable, and somebody will say yes!

How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?

Brexit hasn't really impacted the business at all, as we operate almost entirely remotely, providing digital and creative services.

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

The biggest advice I could give is simply to test and validate as much as possible. Don't spend lots of money on unproven ideas, prove them first, no matter how scrappy you have to get. Businesses take time to build, and customer perception takes time to change, so find the most effective way of testing any big ideas you have, and try lots of them. Develop and iterate the ones that show signs of life, and either move on from anything that isn't working, or dig deeper to understand why it failed. Try and find those one or two things that deliver the majority of your growth, and double down on them. Lots of insight is invaluable in the early stages.

What is one resolution you have for your business this year?

My biggest resolution for this year is to ensure we deliver substantial growth for every single client we work with. That is our number one priority and main focus. It is the backbone of our entire business.

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

I see We Are Heroes going from a small, individual-run design service, to a remote team of growth-focused designers and creatives, working to help hundreds of startups and businesses across the world grow through design.

If you're a business owner with a startup that's less than six months old, apply now to feature as one of our Just Started business profiles.

Helena is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has previously written for a popular fintech startup covering everything from money-saving tips to cultural reviews.

She is particularly interested in project management software and the films of Peter Jackson.

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